Skyzoo & Torae Talk About Why Unity In New York Hip-Hop Is Needed
Skyzoo and Torae are ready and willing to represent New York to the fullest. The Brooklyn MCs talked about collaborating for Barrel Brothers ever since an anonymous fan put the title on Wikipedia that hinted they were teaming up. The false claim turned out to be a good idea, and the pair went to work on an LP that best captured the mood and feel of the Big Apple. They had a strong start with the lead single, “Blue Yankee Fitted,” and the rest of the album is just as thorough. Now that Barrel Brothers is officially available for stream and on iTunes, we spoke with the duo after they gave us an exclusive early listen last month to see why the album is needed for New York hip-hop, how unity is still important in the rap game, and if we’ll see them collaborating on an LP again.—Eric Diep
XXL: Why is this album needed right now for New York?
Skyzoo: There’s a lack right now. There’s a lack of that sound, that feel, that lyricism. Lyricism is coming back from all coasts, which is fine. You got guys all over the map—spitting and doing a great job at it. I wouldn’t say that is needed, per say. Just from the New York point of view and really just that era and that feel of just getting busy on a dopest beats possible and just going at whoever. Lyrically, just getting sharper and sharper. The days of The Genius. The days of Big and Jay on “Brooklyn’s Finest.” The days of Nas’ “Halftime,” “Ain’t Hard To Tell.” You know, just those days. But not being dated. Musically and sonically, it wasn’t about being dated. ‘We gotta get these beats that sound like ’93.’ None of that. We wanted to make sure the music we made, sonically it was something that related to nowadays. 2014 and beyond. We wanted to make sure the tone was what the city looked like when you hear it. If you can see sound, this is what the city looks like in the sound.
Torae: It wasn’t about going back and making an album that sounded like ’95 or trying to bring this resurgence. We wanted to make music that felt like what we are inspired by. LeBron James doesn’t have a Michael Jordan game per say, a Magic Johnson game. But you can see that he was inspired by it and took bits and pieces from it and developed his own game. We developed our own New York sound but it still feels like New York. You don’t turn on the Barrel Brothers album and you say, ‘Oh these New York guys …’ It feels just like New York, 2014. A couple buildings is down. There’s a couple coffee shops here and there, but for the most part this is New York, 2014. We just try to bring beats and lyrics to the album.
With Atlanta and the West Coast dominating hip-hop right now, what’s the motivation to make something like this?
Skyzoo: The need [is] right now.
Torae: I feel like music for whatever reason moves around wherever the spotlight is. New York had the spotlight in solo for so long that when it started to shift in the West Coast, it was shining there for a while. Then when it shifted to the South and stood there for the while. I think a lot of these coasts and regions saw how New York had it on lock for so long and learned from our mistakes.
Torae: As far as working together and having unity and synergy and things like that. I feel like that’s why when it got to these other places, it stayed there and the light shines so bright in these places. It faded in New York because they understood where our pitfalls were. But now, it’s slowly starting to shift back. There’s a whole slew of New York artists that are making a lot of noise on a mainstream level. You know, bubbling on the indie circuit and a lot of movements with Pro Era. Just all these different units moving and I feel like now that people are started to pay attention again, we gotta start to do the right thing again with it.That’s the reason for the album. It’s not about us being against the West Coast. I love the West Coast. It’s not about us being against the South. I love the South. I go down to South Florida. I go down to Atlanta. Eat good, live good.
Skyzoo: We got a record on the album with Blu.
Torae: It’s about us representing for New York. You got so many artists from YG to Problem to Kendrick and that whole Black Hippy unit. You got people really going hard for their coast and their turf. We want to do the same for New York.
Do you guys see the unity in New York like Atlanta and the West have now?
Skyzoo: Not yet. I don’t think so. I think you are starting to see little trickles of it here and there. But nowhere near as where it needs to be as far as the way you see it in the South and the Midwest and the West Coast. Over there, it’s whatever with all of them. All those regions I named, they with it. ‘Oh, you from around the corner? Let’s work.’ It doesn’t matter.
Torae: It doesn’t matter if you have the biggest record on the radio.
Skyzoo: It doesn’t matter how much money you do got or don’t got. ‘Yo, you from up the block? Let’s do it.’ We gotta stick together. Up here, it’s still hasn’t gotten there yet ‘cause New York has always been a dog eat dog mentality. New York has always been only the strong survive. I’m from me, brushing against each other in the street. ‘Fuck you, fuck you too.’ That’s always been it. So to ask artists to break that down, it shouldn’t be asking a lot, but to them subliminally maybe it is.
We’ve been able to do what we do regardless. Literally, be at the forefront. A lot of these guys that are coming up, these crews. They’ll tell you: ‘Yo, we was listening to Skyzoo and Torae a couple years ago. Get it done.’ The Salvation. For The Record. A Dream Deferred. These are the records that helped shape the guys that are running around now that are from New York. These are the records that helped shape these guys as far as their music. I’ve had rappers that are on tell me I listen to you every time I write. I write, I listen to you first. These are the guys that have been on the covers of magazines. It all comes together and all that comes from us doing what we do and nothing else. Not being anybody else, not emulating or imitating anyone else but being us. And that’s how those things have happened.
Torae: We got three other New York artists on the project. Sha Stimuli. People don’t hear a lot about or people say he’s a brief hiatus or what have you. We could have easily went and tapped somebody else that could have been more current or relevant or whatever. But it was about working with the family, working with the city. It was about making it make sense. Same with Living Proof who is on the record called “Albee Square Mall.” There was other people that we could have reached out to and people that we spoke to about the record, but when it got down to making the record, it was about doing something that was gonna help pull somebody else up. Give a little light to somebody else. That’s what it is about.
You’ve said you made Barrel Brothers off the fact someone put it on Wikipedia. Do you see yourself making more collaborations in the future?
Skyzoo: Yeah, I don’t think there’s gonna be projects put out between us that don’t have one another on it. If you go back to my catalog, you always see featuring Torae at least one time. Pretty much the majority of the projects, whether it is mixtapes or whatever else it is. As far as another Barrel Brothers album, who is to say? We came in as solo artists, we met as artists already making our way into the game, but the chemistry was there and we became family over the years. We’ve been rocking for 8, 9 years now as homies outside of the music. The chemistry was always there and it only made sense to put the music together and cash out.
Torae: It was a timing thing. Sky was in the middle of rap superstar. I was running around on my bully rap and the time happened when we both had space in the schedule. It was never about I don’t want to it and he don’t want to do it. It was a timing thing. Of course, we wanted to establish our individual solo careers. Once that had been done, it was figuring out a time and now is the time. It’s Barrel Brothers season and like he said, we are always gonna work together and we’ll see what happens.